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How to Paint a Furry Cartoon Character in Photoshop

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In this tutorial, we will explain how to create a furry cartoon character in Photoshop. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

Step 1

When you design characters, start doodling to find the shape and proportions is a good way to get something interesting, and a good starting point to get the base of what will be the final creation.

Step 2

Once the idea is clear, let's start creating. Open a new document and fill it with a bright orange color, I usually start with the eyes, for me they are the center of the character, where you can find most of his personality, and, why are they asymmetrical? The answer is just personal preferences; I tend to draw eyes on this way on my characters. So, first draw two circular selections with the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M), create a new layer, "Eyes Base" and fill that selection with white color, next, apply Layer Style, Drop Shadow as shown.

Step 3

Now, let's create the iris, to save time we will create one eye, and then copy and paste it on the other one afterwards. Draw a circular selection with the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) on the middle of the white circle, create a new layer "Right Iris" with its default settings, and fill that selection with light blue color. To render its concavity, create a new layer "Concave Shadow", set its Blending Mode to Overlay and 100% Opacity, and apply a gradient from black to transparent as shown.

Step 4

For the iris texture will be necessary to create a custom brush, which subsequently will be useful for the fur also. Hide the previous layers we created before, create a new one, and with the Pen Tool (P) create a vertical line, next, with the Convert Point Tool, bend it as shown. Now on the Brush Presets palette select Flat Point Medium Stiff, then go to the Path Tab > Stroke Path, check that Simulate Pressure is marked, play with the size of the brush to get a thin line with degraded borders. Now go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and save the shape as fur brush or whatever you want.

Step 5

Once brush is created, it's time to adjust its settings, go to Brush Settings (F5) and on the Brush Tip Shape tab adjust Spacing slider, and on the Shape Dynamics tab tweak controls as shown, play with them making some tests till get necessary behavior, idea is to paint a radial iris texture. Create a new layer "Iris Texture", placed below "Cavity Shadow" layer, set its Blending Mode to Soft Light, and Opacity to 100% pick black color and paint the texture, after with the Smudge Tool, transform a bit to make it a bit more irregular.

Step 6

Repeat same operation as before but this time with white color, on a new layer "Iris Texture White", set its Blending Mode to Soft Light and Opacity to 100%. It is necessary to illuminate the area opposite the shadow, so apply a Layer Mask to hide the upper right of the layer.

Iris usually has a darker area on the edge, create a new layer "Iris Stroke", set its Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 60%, use the Wand Tool (W) to select the shape of the iris and go to Edit > Stroke, choose Inside Location, and make a stroke of 4 pixels wide, following with the Smudge Tool, smudge a bit to integrate it better on the texture.

Step 7

Iris still needs to appear more concave, duplicate the "Iris Shadow" layer and set its Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 90%, now we get a deeper finish.

Next, it's time for lights, create a new layer "Concave Light 1" set its Blending Mode to Luminosity and leave Opacity to 100%, on it, paint a white ring smaller that the iris diameter, use a soft round brush to do it with low opacity, next create another layer "Concave Light 2" set its Blending Mode to Lighten and 57% of Opacity, intensify light on the lower area with some extra white color strokes, and use the Smudge Tool to imitate the iris surface.

Step 8

Next, paint the pupil, create a new layer "Pupil", leave its default layer settings, and paint a black dot placed on the center of the iris, with the Smudge Tool degrade a bit its edges. Now we will add the reflective finish of the eye, create a new layer "Retina Brightness", leave its default layer settings, paint a white dot on the top right, and smudge the edges a bit with the Smudge Tool. To simulate reflectivity, also paint and smudge a blue and orange stroke on the bottom left, to render reflections of the blue light and surrounding orange hair.

On all reflected surfaces there are a high contrast between light and shadow, to achieve it, create a new layer "Retina Shadow" leave its Blending Mode to Normal and set Opacity to 60%, place the layer below iris and pupil layers, and paint a gradient from black to transparent on the bottom left area, just on the opposite place of the light. Finally, following with the reflective finishing, create a new layer "Orange Tint" set its Blending Mode to Multiply and 30% of Opacity, make a selection of the eye and fill it with background's orange color, with this, eye surface will reflect the fur orange color around it.

Step 9

The last effect, will be reflect the horizon on the surface, for it, create a new layer "Horizon Reflection", set its Blending Mode to Soft Light and 20% Opacity, with black color, paint an irregular line in the middle of the eye and fill the rest till down, now apply a Layer Mask to hide parts painted outside.

Step 10

Combine all visible layers that were used for render the eye, except the "Eyes Base" layer, we will have a resulting layer, call it "Right Eye," duplicate it , rename it "Left Eye" and go to Edit > Transform > Scale, for resize the left eye, with the Move Tool (V) take up its place. Merge all the eye layers.

Step 11

Eyes finished it's time to start with the body, create a new layer over the "Orange b
Background" layer, pick the Soft Round Brush, select black color, and start painting the shape of the body, it isn't necessary to be very precise, just sketching the main forms. Now, go to Filter > Liquify and with the Forward Warp Tool (W) detail the forms with more accuracy, as arms, legs, cheeks and head shape.

Step 12

Now, we will add detail on the edge, for it, first use the Smudge Tool with the Hard Round Pressure Size brush, start making the bigger tufts, adjust brush size during the process to have betters results, more randomness more real the fur looks like, also modify direction and angle of the strokes while you are painting.

On the next phase, use the Spatter 14px brush, this brush gives a more choppy effect; again, modify size and angle to get the best results. Use lower brush size to create thin hairs, followed by the Smudge Tool to crimp them a bit.

Step 13

Next, we will add the eyebrows, create a new layer "Eyebrows", placed over the eyes layer, make a rectangular selection over the eyes with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and fill it with orange's body color, then apply a Layer Style, Drop Shadow and adjust settings as shown. With the Smudge Tool again and Spatter 14px brush create the hair, as layer has drop shadow, each stroke we make will project its own shadow giving us the depth effect.

Step 14

Using the fur image provided on the assets, we will create the fur base of our character. Start selecting areas of fur with the Polygonal Lasso Tool from the picture, then copy and paste them to create different fur layers, once the selection is placed on a new layer, move or rotate it to match the hair direction, arrows on the pic shows how hair must flow on the body, head and tips. In some cases will be necessary to use the Warp Transform Tool to fix them.
Next, hide the undesired areas of each clipping with Layer Masks, leave that a small part of each piece of hair covers the adjacent, avoiding blank spaces without texture.

Step 15

Now, we will "weld" each cut of hair, first of all, set Blending Mode of each all layers to Multiply and 100% Opacity, made this, on each Layer Mask, use the Smudge Tool with the Spatter 14px brush to integrate adjacent hairs, follow the direction of the hair to avoid hard cuts. Setting the Strength of the stroke during the process will help to get better results. Remember that we are not painting, we just leave to see the underneath layer, using the Layer Mask's transparency, so to complete the process on some areas will be necessary to paint on the Layer Mask with white or black to show or hide portions of hair.

When we will have all integrated, apply all layers masks and merge all the resulting layers, set the Blending Mode to Multiply, and go to Filters > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen, and apply a sharpen amount of 50%.

Step 16

Character needs mouth to complete his expression, create a new layer "Mouth", set its Blending Mode to Multiply and 100% Opacity, pick a hard round brush, set it size about 3 pixels and paint the mouth's line, afterwards using the Smudge Tool break the stroke a bit to simulate surrounding hair. We still have the body without any volume, to fix it create two more layers, set its Blending Modes and Opacities as shown, what we will do is painting shadows to block out forms as arms, chin, eyes sockets and so on, use black color and play with Opacity.

Step 17

On the next step we will add a lateral blue light which will enrich our color palette, create a new layer "Blue Light" set its Blending Mode to Color al leave Opacity to 100%, pick a Soft Round brush and paint a stroke on the character's left side, next use the Smudge Tool and the Spatter 14px Brush to break the stroke, and integrate it on the fur texture.

Step 18

Now starts the phase where we paint the finishing fur over the base that we created from a real fur picture. Pick the brush we created on Step 4, and go to the Brush Setting Palette (F5), where we will have to play with different controls on the Brush Tip Shape area. First, the Brush Size, to get different hair sizes, depending of what part of the body, they will be longer or shorter. Another control to adjust is the Angle, will be necessary to adjust it to place hairs on the right flowing position, as we saw on Step 14. And, finally, Spacing control to adjust how separated hairs will be, on open areas as belly, hairs are more scattered, an on cheeks are closer each other.

Step 19

With the brush Shape Dynamics settings we will have more control our hair strokes, adjust Angle Jitter to create disheveled hairs, and Roundness Jitter control, to get more hair waviness. Let's have some fun with our hair.

Step 20

Fur will be build on two layers, "Orange Fur" layer, were we will use a lighter orange than body's color, and "White Fur" layer, were we will paint white hairs, both in Normal mode and 100% Opacity. White fur must be over the orange fur layer. As you can see in the image below don't try to cover whole body of hair strokes, just add hair on some areas, which will help to get a more complete fur surface. We will add an extra layer "Under Eyebrows Fur" where we will paint some darker orange hair strokes, to get more shadows on that area.

Step 21

For the white wisp that goes from chin to chest we will use a piece of the fur picture of the assets again, with the Lasso Tool (L) or the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) make a selection of the wisp, then Copy and Paste it on a new layer "White Wisp", leave Blending Mode to Normal and set 75% Opacity, then, apply a Layer Mask and hide the unwanted hair. Now to give it the white hue, go to Image > Adjust > Levels and adjust the right hand slider to clarify it.

Step 22

To curl a little more hair, and make some flow corrections, use the Smudge Tool with high Strength, then push hairs to get a more detailed finishing.

Step 23

Arriving at this point, I decided to lighten a bit shiners, for it, create a new layer "Shiners Correction", leave Blending Mode to Normal, and set Opacity to 25%, now with our hair custom brush we created before, paint some hair strokes with body's orange color around the eyes.

Step 24

Now, let's start with the background, we need to go down on layer's tree to create a new layer over the "Body Shape" layer, call it "Background Blue Light," leave Blending Mode to Normal and set Opacity to 35%, next, use "Body Shape" layer to make a selection of the body with the Wand Tool (W), then create a Layer Mask to isolate the body from the background. Pick a medium blue color and apply a gradient from blue to transparent with the Gradient Tool (G) from top to bottom.

Step 25

Next, create a new layer "White Spotlight" set Blending Mode to Soft Light and 75% Opacity, Copy and Paste the Layer Mask we created on previous step to isolate character's body again, pick the Brush Tool (B) and with a Soft Round Brush paint a white dot big enough to make the spotlight behind character.

Step 26

To create the soil use the gravel image provided on the assets, import it on a new layer "Soil" leave settings to Blending Mode Normal and 100% Opacity, and go to Edit > Transform > Perspective and transform it to fit character's perspective. Now, with the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) make an elliptical selection of the portion of the soil we want to show, then go to Select > Refine Edge and adjust Feather Edge to 15 pixels, finally apply a Layer Mask. To hide portion of soil that cover the legs, go to "Body Shape" layer and make the body's selection with the Wand Tool (W), pick the Paint Bucket Tool (G) and fill it with black color on the Layer Mask.

Step 27

To balance the ambient color on the soil create a new layer "Soil Blue Tint", set its Blending Mode to Color and Opacity to 35%, and fill it with same blue color that we used for previous gradient.

Step 28

Finally is necessary to render character's shadow over the soil, create a new Layer "Character Shadow", set its Blending Mode to Multiply and 71% Opacity, pick the Brush Tool (B) with a Soft Round Brush and with black color, paint the shadow.

Step 29

Character and background are finished, to add the final vignetting go to Filter > Lens Correction and apply following settings.

Step 30

To make our image a bit sharper, go to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen, and apply following settings.


To conclude the image, flatten all layers, I prefer to duplicate them first, and leave a copy of originals, and on the resulting layer, make some levels adjustments, Image >Adjustments > Levels, to enhance contrast.

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